There is nothing quite like moving to a new city to make you realize your own insignificance.
I had been here for two days. No one knew me in Austin; perhaps no one cared to. It was both lonely and liberating.
For two days anonymity was the name of the game as I settled into my home for the summer. I puzzled out the bus routes from 29th and Guadalupe (my temporary home) to 8th and Congress — the Texas Monthly offices to which I report every day. I’d unpacked and grocery shopped and used the treadmill in the basement gym. Three steps, I thought, on the road to thoroughly establishing myself.
But an equal amount of time was spent in my apartment pondering lost connections. I couldn’t call or text friends to make plans like I could in Columbia. All of the “Hey, wanna go to Ragtag?” or “Let’s go to Andy’s!” were (are) relics of a past life. The people I love are spread far and wide across the country. Splayed on my bed listening to the “Pride and Prejudice” audio book (coincidentally, a story based on social interactions and, as Austen puts it, “connections,”), I was forced to wonder: If no one knew I was there, did I matter?
I found myself opening windows to let the city in. I needed to hear the bustle below, to feel connected to something. For all my professed hatred of the human race, I thought, I am pathetically dependent on it for fulfillment and happiness.
The only option was to forge my way into significance. To meet people, do things, make myself memorable in some way somewhere. Whether that be in my internship, on the weekends or at a local coffee shop (I’m camped out at Spider House Cafe with Annie Melton, a fellow intern, this afternoon to work on making an impression), being recognized and remembered would be a comfort.
Now, two days later, a few here know my name. I spent the weekend with Stefani and Ina, high school friends whom I’ve missed steadily for three years. Harrison and Eric summoned me to Kirby Lane for chips and queso late last night, and Annie reels off places I need to go and things I need to experience. I like her taste — things are looking up.
I’ve landed on solid ground, but the shakiness of a few days ago is too recent for comfort. Solo time can be a breath of fresh air. More than anything, it tests of how comfortable you are alone with yourself. But, in the end, people make a new city home.
Perhaps it exacerbated my state of mind, but in those first few days I tore through “Sputnik Sweetheart” by Haruki Murakami. At one point its main character, who remains nameless, ponders loneliness:
“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”
No, I don’t think it was. I think the earth was put here to nourish human connection.